Oct. 11, 2000
by Ken Kleppel
Notre Dame senior strong safety Ron Israel may not be the vocal leader of the secondary or the loudest man in the locker room.
The media may not count on him to be an instant sound-byte, and he may never be challenged for being outspoken.
Yet, you need not listen too closely to perceive a calm and confident approach. His ability to lead by example likely goes undetected in post-game interviews.
As senior cornerback Brock Williams says of his former roommate, "He goes at everything with top speed. Just by looking at Ron Israel, you know he is a hard worker. Everything he does, he does so professionally. He goes about his business the right way."
Though, according to Israel, older brothers Steve and Tim have already been there and done that.
Playing nine seasons of professional football after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, oldest brother Steve is presently on injured reserve with the New Orleans Saints. Currently co-managing a real estate firm with Steve, older brother Tim played football and ran track at Temple University.
"Up to this day, my brothers still tell me different pointers as to how I could better my game," says Israel.
"They have always had plenty of words of wisdom but I also watched their examples of how they went about things both on and off the field. I have never seen them not handling their business the way it should be handled. They both got their degrees and are successful at what they are doing now. I don't expect anything less from myself after seeing what they've experienced and watching what they've accomplished. If anything I expect more."
Each Saturday, Israel demonstrates just how far this brotherly influence can stretch.
Battling his way from the prep squad his freshman season, Israel notched 108 appearances as a mainstay on special teams throughout his sophomore year. Combined with stellar performances during 2000 spring drills, Israel capitalized on two starts and appeared at both corner and safety in 10 games last season and emerged as the starting strong safety in time for the season-opening victory over Texas A&M.
"Just growing up and watching my brothers play had a big impact because it motivated me to do a lot of the good things they did such as an earning an athletic scholarship and playing big-time college football. Throughout my career they have always been supportive like older brothers should be," he says.
Ironically, a 1988 Notre Dame mid-season defeat of brother Steve and host Pittsburgh marked Israel's first collegiate game as a spectator. Adorned in Pittsburgh colors that October day, attending Notre Dame was by no means a life-long dream for the youngster from New Jersey. It was not until high school that the two-way, four-year starter at Haddon Heights would become re-introduced to the Irish. As luck would have it, Steve again served as the intermediary, only this time in a direct fashion.
"After playing with and being around Todd Lyght and Pat Terrell it sunk in to Steve as to what type of place this is," says Israel.
"He kind of passed down to me the idea of the academic reputation that Notre Dame has carried over all these years. I could remember him saying about how you just don't hear about too many negative incidents with the players or the program here."
Israel responded immediately to the advice.
"If all you want to do is play big-time football, you don't have to go to Notre Dame. But I wanted to do more than just play big-time football, I wanted to get a big-time education and what is considered a big-time degree. You're going somewhere that is highly recognized for its football tradition and at the same time is highly recognized for its academic reputation, so why not do both? People here want to see you succeed."
As a film, television, and theater major, Israel is just a few months away from May graduation. Yet with seven games left on the 2000 schedule he now is primed to further his impact on the gridiron.
Totaling 14 tackles, with four being unassisted and two for a loss, Israel already has surpassed his 1999 season totals in sacks.
"I feel as though I have made some strides, but still I don't feel as if I have made my biggest stride," says Israel.
"The main thing I have always done is concentrate on my weaknesses and at the same time go as hard as I can go and just give myself a chance. You have to open a door for yourself. Therefore, all I think about doing as a player is getting better. I try to thing big because if you don't think big then big things won't happen."
"I think he's a more mature player," Williams says.
"It just took time for him to develop because of the great players like Deke Cooper and A'jani Sanders who were ahead of him. He learned a lot from playing cornerback. He has good man-to-man skills that separate him from a lot of other safeties. With someone like Gerome Sapp pushing you, it can only make you better."
Reflecting the influence of his brothers and at the same time incorporating his own experiences and values, Israel assumes a leadership role today.
"I am not a huge talker, but I emphasize leading by example," says Israel.
"Whatever I do, I try to lead it the best way I can. Once I have a good grasp of what is going on and feel as though I have mastered something good enough to lead someone in the right direction, that's when I take the initiative to do that. From now until I leave, all I try to do is lead by example and not talk about it."
There is no need for talk. Israel exemplifies that seeing is believing.